July 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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West Side Story  
Music Composed by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Barbara Bonney - Maria
Michael Ball - Tony
La Verne Williams - Anita
Christopher Howard - Riff
  The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor Barry Wordsworth
  Available on Warner Classics 2564 604232  
Running time: 71.48
Crotchet   Amazon UK

west side story

This is a tenth anniversary reissue of a "classical style" CD version of West Side Story, a reworking following in the wake of Leonard Bernstein's own addition to the catalogue with Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras - see my review of the DVD of the making of that recording: Bernstein Conducts WSS, and a review of the single CD version. Meanwhile a much more recent version on the budget Naxos label was discussed by David Wishart in January this year.

The version currently under review condenses the musical to a single disc, yet manages to keep the "Dance at the Gym" and "Ballet Sequence" instrumental sections. While the booklet offers the libretto and an interesting note on the creation of the original Broadway musical, it provides no insight into the reasons or choices behind this 1993 recording. There are no biographies of the artists either.

Now will I'll admit I'm prejudiced in that West Side Story is one of my two favourite stage musicals, the other being My Fair Lady, I have to say that this current recording is both tremendous fun and very moving. Like Kanawa, Bonney was, at 37, way too old for the part of Maria, and she's not exactly Latin either, but it doesn't matter with a performance as emotionally committed and skilful as the one she delivers here. Likewise, Michael Ball makes a splendidly fiery yet sensitive Tony, and the supporting cast bring just the right energy, aggression and gusto to the proceedings.

This is a youth musical, full of rampaging desires and pent-up frustrations, laden with inner-city turmoil and incendiary New York summer heat. Conductor Barry Wordsworth brings out all this passion in Bernstein's landmark score, taking time to bring the orchestral jazz dances to life with surging dynamism and real lyricism. From the romance of "Tonight" to the spunky street-smart sarcasm of "Gee, Office Krupke" this set hits all the right notes. It actually has more energy, drive and spark than Bernstein's own 1980's version, and really is the one to go for. Highly recommended.

Gary Dalkin

****(*) 41/2

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